It can be tempting to prod the ears in a bid to shift earwax.
But popular methods of dislodging it — cotton buds, fingers and candling — may cause more harm than good, according to NHS GP Dr Suraj Kukadia.
Trying to clean inside the ear can push wax deeper into the ear canal, which might cause hearing difficulties, tinnitus and infections.
Dr Kukadia, who works shifts in A&E, told his 60,000 TikTok followers that the ears are self-cleaning and people shouldn’t put anything smaller than their elbow inside them.
Instead, he recommended simply using a cotton flannel to wipe around the outside of the ear.
In severe cases of earwax build-up — which can be caused by narrow or damaged ear canals, hearing aids and skin conditions — some GPs offer ear cleaning, to either flush out excess wax with water or suck it out with a small vacuum.
However, the RNID, the national hearing loss charity, today warned 10million people in England can no longer access this treatment, as many NHS sits have withdrawn it.
As a result, it said people are turning to ‘dangerous’ methods in a bid to remove wax themselves.
It can be tempting to prod the ears in a bid to shift earwax. But popular methods of dislodging it — cotton buds, fingers and candling — may cause more harm than good, according to NHS GP Dr Suraj Kukadia. Instead, he recommended simply using a cotton flannel to wipe around the outside of the ear
In a clip that has clocked up more than 18,000 views, Dr Kukadia, who goes by Dr Sooj on social media, said: ‘How should you clean your ears?
‘You don’t. Your ears are self-cleaning and you shouldn’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear.
‘You can get a flannel and wipe around the outside of the ear but if you’ve got any problems, then you need to see a doctor or nurse and we’ll tell you what to do.’
Dr Kukadi added: ‘It’s quite common to see people in general practice with earwax that has been impacted against their eardrums.
‘[It can] lead to hearing difficulties, tinnitus, and even dizziness.’
Wax is vital for preventing dust, bacteria and germs from entering the ear, as well as protecting the skin of the ear canal from becoming irritated.
It is produced by glands in the ear canal and travels to the opening of the ear and then falls out.
Therefore, people are advised to only clean the outside of their ear.
However, some people suffer from a build-up of wax. Signs of this include hearing loss, an earache, ringing or buzzing in the ears (tinnitus) and feeling dizzy.
This can be down to having narrow or damaged ear canals, lots of hair in the ears, a skin condition, hearing aids or inflammation of the canal.
For these people, ENT UK, the membership organisation representing ear, nose and throat surgery, recommends using two to three drops of olive oil once a week to soften ear wax and help it come out.
If earwax is very hard, it advises people to use sodium bicarbonate drops, which can be bought from pharmacies for around £4.
Some GP practices can remove wax by flushing it out with water, known as ear irrigation, or sucking it out through microsuction.
However, the NHS warns that patients may have to pay for this privately after the service was withdrawn in parts of the country in 2019.
Medics across the board warn that using an cotton bud or little finger in a bid to remove wax may just push it further into the ear, which can cause a blockage, hearing loss and a burst eardrum.
And ear candling — placing a lit, hollow candle in the ear to supposedly draw out wax — is ineffective at removing wax and can lead to burns and puncture the ear drum, experts warn.
Earphones have also been blamed for worsening ear blockages, as prolonged use compresses wax, making it harder to expel. They also block air flow into the ear, which leaves wax stickier and more prone to build-up, and trap moisture, making the ears more prone to infection.
Specsavers, which provides audiology services on the NHS, warned that working from home has worsened this problem, as it sees increasing numbers of people wearing earbuds for extended periods of time.
However, the RNID today warned that people are struggling to access earwax removal services on the NHS and are having to fork out up to £100 per private appointment to unclog their ears, which some need several times a year.
In a clip that has clocked up more than 18,000 views, Dr Kukadia, who goes by Dr Sooj on social media, said: ‘How should you clean your ears? ‘You don’t. Your ears are self-cleaning and you shouldn’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear’
It sent Freedom of Information Requests to all 42 integrated care boards across England. Results showed that just 18 funded earwax removal, 15 had restricted eligibility criteria and seven provided no treatment at all.
It means 10mllion people in England live in areas with no earwax removal service.
The charity said that some are turning to ‘dangerous self-removal methods’, such as cotton buds, their fingers and even paper clips and hair pins in a bid to shift wax.
Around 2.3million people require earwax treatment per year, with most patients being hearing aid users, elderly or suffering from a learning disability, according to the NHS.
Helen Kendall, from Bath told the BBC that she pays £240 a year for private treatment because the GPs in her area no longer offer earwax removal.
The 76-year-old said: ‘When the wax builds up, I find it very difficult.
‘I lost some of my confidence and became unable to follow conversations.
‘It led to increased isolation and I found I was withdrawing.’
Ms Kendall said that all aspects of her social life — including volunteering at a food bank, being part of an art and cooking groups and going to the cinema — all require her to be able to hear properly.